Where’s the best place to find great deals in November?
It’s Lake Tahoe, where summer and fall colors have passed, but ski season has not yet arrived.
Last Veterans Day weekend, a friend and I set out for Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. In order to get out of Merced on Friday night and save some of Saturday’s limited daylight hours, I searched for affordable places to stay in Reno. Surprisingly, I found there were nice rooms at Lake Tahoe that were just as affordable.
We arrived in South Lake about 10 p.m. with snow falling lightly and left fairly early the next morning. The Tahoe region had a fresh layer of snow on it as we headed northeast on Interstate 50. The only thing that surprised me more than the comfortable $50 room just a few blocks from the lake was that everything was absolutely beautiful and there was hardly anyone else there to enjoy it!
This year I returned on the same weekend, expecting a similar experience. Although the nights were cool, the days were surprisingly warm. There were only a few traces of snow in the shadiest areas, but the best trails seemed almost abandoned. November is Tahoe’s offseason, but it’s a great time to enjoy the lake between the summer and winter crowds.
Currently, only Boreal is open for skiing and snowboarding. Ice skating at Squaw Valley’s Olympic Ice Pavilion is scheduled to begin on Nov. 27. Although the forest service and state parks already have closed many parking and recreation areas, there’s still a lot to do. Our favorite stops on this year’s November trip were:• Emerald Bay Lunch Cruise: One of the best ways to enjoy the lake is by boat. Although summer offers a greater variety of lake cruise options, we were more than pleased with our Bleu Wave lunch cruise (noon to 2 p.m.) from Round Hill Beach to Emerald Bay and Rubicon Point and back. There was plenty of room – including a warm indoors with plenty of windows – on the 70 foot boat. Lunch and beverages were included in the internet rate of $55/adult and free seats for children under 12: http://www.tahoebleuwave.com/. The boat travels across the lake and into beautiful Emerald Bay for up close views of the Vikingsholm manson and Fannette Island.
• Stateline Lookout: Until 2002, there was a fire lookout guarding the California/Nevada border on the north shore of the lake. Although it has been removed, the site is a great place to enjoy views of the lake, especially at sunset. Getting to the viewpoint requires a hike of only 1 mile (round trip) along a gated service road. At the top, a loop trail diverges from the road for better views and informational displays about Tahoe’s history. To find the trailhead, turn north on Reservoir Drive just east of the casinos. Turn right on Lakeview Avenue and park near the large Forest Service gate on the north side of the road (in Nevada). Walk around the gate and follow the road back into California for some memorable views.
• Upper Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake: One of the most popular trails in the Tahoe area, it’s a great place to enjoy in the off-season. We saw few people on our Monday morning trek. The 2-mile round trip hike includes continuous climbing through granite to get to a true jewel of an alpine lake. It’s a fun trail with a bridge that crosses Upper Eagle Falls, nice views east toward Emerald Bay, and the option to make a loop of the lower part of the hike. If you have to choose, however, the side of the trail that stays closest to the creek is more scenic. Trailhead parking is $5 a car. Since this trail leads into the Desolation Wilderness, hikers must fill out a free wilderness permit at the kiosk near the start of the trail. The parking area is located near Emerald Bay, about 8 miles north of South Lake on Highway 89.
• Kokanee Salmon in Taylor Creek: I’ve seen kokanee in other waterways, but I’ve never seen as many anywhere as you can see in Taylor Creek in the fall. These landlocked salmon return to streams to lay their eggs and die as the year draws to its end. Taylor Creek, crossed by Highway 89 just north of Camp Richardson, is one of the best places to see them. We parked along the highway and then walked along the paved path that follows the creek to see thousands of living and dead kokanee in the creek. Although many were dead, an equal number were still alive. Earlier in the year it is possible to see these fish though the glass walls of a subterranean profile chamber. The chamber was locked during our visit, along with the parking area at the visitor center. When this parking area is open, the paved trail along Taylor Creek is completely accessible to all visitors. Even when these areas are closed, there’s a lot to see in the creek!